With the Lakers sitting at 0-6 on the preseason, things were beginning to get a little uneasy in the City of Angels. At least on the Lakers’ side of town. Tonight the Lakers weren’t the only Los Angeles squad suiting up, as they took on their cross-hall rival Clippers in a meeting to establish preseason supremacy in Staples Center. While the teams will meet again nine nights from now in a game that actually means something, there was a bit of excitement in the air as the two Hollywood foes squared off.
This preseason matchup didn’t have as much star power as one would generally suspect, however. The Lakers’ were without Kobe Bryant (ankle) and Dwight Howard (back), while the Clippers were resting Chris Paul (thumb) as well. There was still plenty of All-Star caliber players to whet fans’ appetites, though, as Steve Nash, Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol and DeAndre Jordan all suited up for the game.
Things started off rather quiet for the Lakers on offense, as they struggled to get anything going for the first few minutes of the game. Without Bryant or Howard they were without two of their main scoring threats, and it was apparent over the course of the first several possessions. Ultimately, Nash helped set the team up and get them into rhythm with the ball. The main recipient of Nash’s ballhandling skills was rookie Robert Sacre, who was inserted into the starting lineup once again with Howard back on the bench.
Sacre looked strong in the first quarter, scoring six points and snagging two rebounds in the first period. Nash also made several other Lakers look better, including shooting guard Jodie Meeks. Like Sacre, Meeks was in the lineup as a replacement for Bryant, who will be out the remainder of the preseason. Meeks hit a couple long-range baskets, which is a good sign after he had struggled for much of the preseason. At the end of the first quarter the Lakers were holding a narrow 23-22 lead over the Clippers.
A lot of questions have been made surrounding the struggles of the Lakers bench. Not just during the preseason, but also during the regular season in 2011. The reserves were out there with something to prove tonight, and they played a much more productive second quarter than we had seen from them up tot his point. Each player who made it onto the court in the first half also managed to score, which is a level of balance we haven’t been accustomed to from this current Lakers’ squad.
There was a strong sequence in the second from Steve Blake, another player who has struggled in the preseason. He seemed to lead the reserve unit well, controlling the tempo and making solid passes that put his teammates in positions to score. He also connected on a few outside jumpers, something he will need to do on a more consistent basis if he wants to keep Chris Duhon on the bench. Things fell apart a bit for the Lakers at the end of the half, as the Clippers went on a 10-0 run to take a 49-40 lead at the break.
The second half has spelled doom for the Lakers recently, but that wasn’t the case in the third quarter on Wednesday night. Los Angeles immediately opened the half with a 13-2 run to reclaim the lead, 53-51. It was Sacre and Pau Gasol leading the offense for the Lakers in the third, as both hit multiple shots to help LA build a minor lead midway through the quarter. Gasol worked very well with Nash, as they ran a strong pick and roll game that resulted in open looks for Pau from midrange. Gasol capitalized on these looks by hitting the majority of these jumpers, allowing the Lakers to maintain their lead.
Eric Bledsoe was the big story of the night for the Clippers. He dominated the Lakers on both ends of the floor, harassing them defensively while slashing to the basket and getting easy buckets on offense. It’s safe to say that after this game, Steve Blake will be seeing Bledsoe in his nightmares for the foreseeable future. The Clippers made a push near the end of the quarter, but ultimately it was the Lakers who had managed to snag the lead heading into the final quarter, 73-72.
After their strongest third quarter of the preseason, the Lakers entered the fourth with a legitimate chance to get their first victory of the preseason. But the lineup inserted into the game for the final period was one that has struggled to find offense in the past. With no starters on the floor for the Lakers the team has a hard time finding ways to score, and that was the case for the beginning of the quarter. The Clippers managed to reclaim the lead early in the fourth, and unfortunately for the Lakers they never were able to get it back.
In the end it was turnovers that doomed the Lakers in their seventh consecutive preseason loss. There were certainly some bright spots for the team, but until they’re able to get a hang of their turnover problems they’re going to keep having problems. Even with Howard and Kobe, the inability to control the ball is a major problem. Until they’re able to get that under control (they turned it over 20 times Wednesday night) they’re going to have difficulties winning games – no matter who’s on the floor. The turnovers turned out to be too much for the Lakers to overcome as they fell to 0-7 on the preseason, losing to the Clippers 97-91.